Head of Visuals, NZZ

Introducing Dystopia Tracker

May 23, 2014

Under Surveillance by john naccarato

cc john naccarato

How many times, in those past twelve months, have you read about or heard the names Edward Snowden and George Orwell right alongside? The massive-scale surveillance Edward Snowden revealed has indeed been compared a lot to the dystopia described by Orwell in «1984». We’re both fascinated and irritated by those connections – because we feel we’ve been warned. We just didn’t pay enough attention.

Mass surveillance might, to date, be the most extensive example of a reality that has been anticipated. Yet it’s not the only one. A lot more has been predicted in the past. And a lot more is becoming reality these days. We live in a time where predictions about the future are becoming realities at an ever faster pace.

Take this example from the brilliant Black Mirror episode «Be Right Back». It was aired last year – part of what it imagines is now, one year later, offered to the public.

Whenever some new technology is invented, a new app or device is released, new legislation is passed, you’ll see people draw comparisons to past predictions. There have also been efforts to draw a bigger picture (like this infographic of «Books that predicted the future» that I like a lot).

What’s missing is a comprehensive, open, re-usable collection of all this information. That’s why we built the Dystopia Tracker.

What is the Dystopia Tracker?

The Dystopia Tracker is a collaborative effort to document predictions about the future and their realisations. Our goal is to turn it into a platform that everyone can use to explore and learn; and a database that can be used for analysis and to build other applications.

What can I do with it?

In short: explore, contribute, build upon.

  • Explore: Browse predictions about the future, by title (everything from «Brave New World»), category (everything related to «State & Control» or source types (everything from TV series).
  • Contribute: Add predictions from books, movies, games, tv-series that you know well. Edit existing entries to improve them. Translate existing entries.
  • Build upon: Embed predictions to your own website or articles to tell stories. Use the Dystopia Tracker API to build your own application or visualisation with the data.

Why so pessimistic?

Agreed, the name Dystopia Tracker is rather gloomy. Yet I’m actually not pessimistic about the future and technology’s role in it. It’s just that I think it’s crucial we stay wary about possible negative developments to get the best possible version of a tech-enabled future. Of course, you’re more than welcome to enter promising predictions and their realisations to the Dystopia Tracker. Not least because for most predictions, different people will have different opinions on whether its realisation would do more good or more harm.

Who’s behind this?

The Dystopia Tracker was build by myself in collaboration with Journalism++, with support of the Rudolf Augstein Stiftung and TagesWoche.

What’s next?

A couple of things. Hopefully, a lot of people will add a lot of interesting predictions and realisations. We’ll try to highlight the most interesting pieces via the Editors’ Picks feature. In the meantime, we are working on a timeline view that will allow you to browse predictions and realisations by year and let you see the big picture. After that? We’ll see. For updates, follow @dystopiatracker on Twitter.

How can I help?

Glad you asked. If you have ideas or want to collaborate in some way, I’d love to hear from you at david@dystopiatracker.com. And of course, to ensure further development for the Dystopia Tracker, we need funds. Thus, towards the end of the year there will be a huge banner on the site, showing my face, asking you to donate. Or – maybe not. If you’re interested in a partnership to support the Dystopia Tracker (or know somebody who might be), get in touch (david@dystopiatracker.com).

Launch Dystopia Tracker

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